Sheriff Babeu Sex Scandal Jeopardizes Romney in Arizona

Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu who was known for his tough stance on illegal immigration, is fighting accusations that he threatened to have an illegal alien deported if he made public their secret relationship. Babeu had been a co-chair on Mitt Romney’s campaign in Arizona since October of last year, but has stepped down to keep the allegations from becoming a “distraction” to Romney’s run.

It’s been less than 2 months than Sheriff Babeu announced a bid for House of Representative, but his run will be a difficult one in the very conservative district now that he has confirmed his gay relationship with the accuser who claims to be an illegal alien. Babeu says he did not know the legal status of the man, and insists he had not believed him to be illegal at the time of their relationship.

More interesting is the effect this scandal might have on the GOP primary election.

While the Arizona primary was not considered as important as some of the other states, Santorum’s sudden spike in popularity might carry over, even though Romney is the only candidate who has been actively campaigning there. It remains to be seen how this might affect Romney’s support, even as Babeu has distanced himself from the campaign.

On polling conducted in Arizona on the 16th by Rasmussen, Romney takes 39% of respondents to Santorum’s 31%. However, Romney was ahead of Santorum 35 points 2 weeks earlier, showing the volatility we’ve come to expect from this primary season. The Santorum momentum can only receive a boost from this departure of the popular Sheriff from Romney’s campaign, but only time will show if it’s enough to push him over the top in Arizona and continue to weaken Mitt’s vaunted cloak of inevitability.

In a press conference on Saturday, Babeu stood in front of many of his supporters, including some from the sheriff’s office as he took questions from the media. In his statement, the Sheriff admitted to being gay and to having a personal relationship with the accuser, but deflected any further accusations of the improper conduct.

Prior to the accusations, the Sheriff had gained national prominence when he appeared in a commercial with John McCain supporting his presidential run in 2008, and affirming McCain’s promise to bring illegal immigration under control. The video ends with McCain, saying, “just build the dang fence!” and Babeu responds, “Senator, you’re one of us.”

Babeu began his political career early, winning a seat on the City Council of North Adams Massachusetts at the age of 18. After failing to win a state Senate seat, he ran twice unsuccessfully for mayor and moved to Arizona. He was able to win the office of Sheriff with a wide margin in conservative Pinal County in 2008, and was named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriffs’ Association in 2011.

Sheriff Babeu is no stranger to sex scandals. In 1986, he told officials in the Springfield Massachusetts diocese that he had been abused by a Catholic priest. The diocese allowed the priest to continue in his office until 5 years later when he was arrested for abusing other children. Babeu’s anger at the inaction of the church resulted in lawsuits and two settlements.

Then, in 1998 he worked at a private boarding school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The DeSisto school closed in 2004 after a long history of child endangerment allegations, including the arrest of a dorm parent for sexual abuse in 1993.

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